Comment: Has the Legal Industry Reached a Client-Centered Tipping Point?

By Tim Dinehart, chief operating officer at ABC Legal Services

In his best-selling book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell challenges the assumption that social change happens slowly over a long period of time. Instead, he argues — using a metaphor eerily reminiscent of our times — “Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do.”

In epidemiology, the tipping point is the moment when a small change tips the balance of a system initiating large-scale change. Of course, no one is suggesting that a global pandemic resulting in nearly 600,000 American deaths is a small change. Rather, COVID-19, along with the “Age of the Customer,” and a decade’s worth of evolution towards a new delivery model, may be the catalyst the legal market needed to embrace technology and pivot towards a new client-centered paradigm.

In fact, led by antiquated court systems, the legal industry has been forced to rapidly confront the challenges of modernizing processes to keep the wheels of justice turning during the global pandemic. The transition to remote operations has accelerated technology adoption as the legal system has been disrupted at every level with courthouses closed, all but essential businesses shuttered, and many Americans either unable or unwilling to leave their homes.

Meanwhile, given the ubiquitous level of transparency, communication and customer service offered by technology giants today, modern consumers simply aren’t satisfied with the slow, inefficient and archaic pace emblematic of the legal industry. Companies like Uber, Apple and Amazon have set a gold standard for communication and transparency that other businesses, including law firms, must emulate as digital natives become the norm.

Additionally, driven by the idea that the only sustainable competitive advantage is knowledge and engagement with customers, the “Age of the Customer” is — according to a Forrester report — a 20-year business cycle in which the most successful enterprises will reinvent themselves to become more customer facing. For the legal industry, the same prospect rings true. Firms need to be more customer centric in order to stay competitive and maintain satisfaction.

Indeed, among the many challenges caused by a global pandemic intersecting with widespread customer demand is the need for better, faster and more efficient service across the board. As 2020 has removed any doubt that for firms to remain competitive in 2021 and beyond, they must invest in the technology tools that help improve the customer experience while reducing costs.

How Technology Improves Efficiency & Customer SatisfactionAdoption of customer-focused technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) coupled with Machine Learning (ML), will help level the playing field, allowing tech novices to access the information needed to argue their case based on related case law, individual judge’s tendencies, and other critical data.This innovative technology can discover patterns and correlations within the data that the human eye is incapable of detecting without a significant investment of time and experience. As a result, intelligent tools are being deployed across the legal field in a variety of exciting ways, such as identifying tasks and workflows that must be initiated, as well as populating common documents and contracts, saving lawyers valuable time better spent on higher-level tasks.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is another simple technology that allows anyone to configure computer software, or a “robot,” to emulate and integrate the actions of a human interacting within digital systems to complete a business process. RPA robots capture data and manipulate applications just like people do by interpreting data, triggering responses and communicating with other systems in order to perform a wide variety of repetitive tasks, sans human error.

Additionally, Application Programming Interface (API) — a software intermediary that allows two applications to talk to each other much like the apps used every day by millions such as Facebook, instant messaging, or weather updates — keeps many legal professionals from having to take data from one system and manually move it to another.

These new technologies are being used to improve efficiency in all aspects of legal service delivery. The most mundane tasks are being automated and improved to save time, reduce costs, and eliminate human error, such as e-filing, service of process, skip tracing, and appearance counsel.

Indeed, much like personal, cloud-based transportation networks connect available drivers with passengers in need of a ride via a lightweight user-friendly smartphone app, legal technology solutions such as service of process and appearance counsel connect process servers and qualified attorneys with clients across the country in search of those very services.

Proprietary software locates available candidates and generally offers a selection of options. The price is set and paid in advance. Because the user’s credit card is linked to their account, no cash changes hands. Updates are provided digitally, and receipts sent via email, with links to options for rating the service provider.

Much like Uber drivers use their own vehicles and enjoy a high earning potential with a flexible work schedule, independent process servers and attorneys operate in much the same way, using technology to increase business. This flexibility is helping increase availability of legal jobs and access to legal services.

Quick, compliant and accurate service of process helps deliver reliable service across all jurisdictions, both nationwide and abroad. Clients and legal professionals get real-time access into their case status as well as the flexibility to upload pictures, provide proof of residency, and co-resident proof of service. Clients get a tailored, customized experience through mobile apps and unique user-friendly customer dashboards.

Legal technology providers are also making e-filing easier by integrating advanced API into courts systems, which enables faster filing of documents with full compliance and a faster acceptance rate. Speed and accuracy are elements that can make or break customer satisfaction. Firms that can integrate these advanced tools will help deliver customer-centric services.

The use of proprietary algorithms in legal services is also helping evolve skip tracing by providing fast and highly accurate results on all instant and pre-skip requests. Legal IT teams and providers that can offer unique technology integrated with other third-party services will help provide access to a broad spectrum of information necessary to locate even the hardest to find individuals. This automation helps reduce time spent on tasks that used to take hours and provides lawyers will valuable time to interact with their customer and clients.

Finally, automated by AI technologies, venue selection processes are also evolving and improving collaboration with court clerks by providing clear mapping of jurisdictional boundaries, state by state. Legal professionals can take advantage of AI-powered venue selection tools to secure the right location based on defendant location and the amount of the lawsuit.

While the road to full technology adoption on par with other industries will be a long road, these are just a few of the new technologies that are being used to improve efficiency and customer service in the legal market. As legal professionals evaluate how to respond during and after the disruptions of the past year, legal technology adoption will help firms remain competitive, keep clients happy and even grow the business.

About the AuthorTim Dinehart is the chief operating officer at ABC Legal Services. As a six-sigma expert, Tim leads process improvement initiatives at ABC Legal, integrating technology with operations to benefit the company’s customers and broader industry in unique ways. Prior to ABC Legal, Tim led business process improvement, finance, and customer support areas with Fortune 500 companies such as IBM and Whole Foods Markets.

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